It felt like just last week I was writing about my class in Session 1, but here we are, in our final week of Session 2!
I remember as I looked through the course listing for potential classes to take through DIS, I saw the African American Expats in Copenhagen and Paris course and thought to myself, “This is the type of class I’ve been looking for!” And immediately signed up for it. I never really thought too much about the impact of African Americans in Europe in particular, but knew that this would the opportunity to explore it further (and even firsthand in some instances!)
What I’ve Learned Thus Far
To see Copenhagen and Paris in the lens of African Americans in history was in fact very powerful, and a perspective that I really felt like I needed to have and will take back and continue to educate myself and others on. I was ultimately shocked to know how positive their experiences were, and this trend continued for many people, even today.
In a piece entitled “Beauty, Beer and Beechwoods” by Roy De Coverley, he says, “Go to Denmark for yourself and see if I have not erred on the side of understatement. It is a wonderful country and a heartwarming one. There you may relax and drink in the joy of human companionship, nourish yourself with the milk of human kindness, refresh your soul with soft, lyric beauty.”
For many African Americans, France and Denmark became more of a home than America ever was. But rather than being because of equality, it was because there was a sense of colorblindness when it came to race. This was something that was shocking, and still exists today, eliminating an important aspect of our identity. Instead, Americans, regardless of any demographic, were always seen and treated as Americans first.
We had the chance to learn and read about James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and other well known figures and their debut in Paris. But at the same time, this course serves to highlight those who have been forgotten or are not as well known, and bring their stories to light through newspapers, letters, poems, stories, or other means.
The classroom is a very engaging space to dig deeper into their works, and elaborate more on their thoughts, feelings, and connect them to our own experiences and how life may be the same/different today in Europe. Our professor, Ethelene Whitmire is quite an inspiring figure, and she wants us to engage and actively provides us with ways to incorporate what we’ve learned through going on field trips as a class, and through our study tour.
Study Tour Experience!
Some of the Academic Trips we made during our week:
- Les Deux Magots & Cafe de Flore: Two restaurants we visited for lunch, and these were the same places that influential figures such as James Baldwin used to find his inspiration for his writing that is so famous today
- Entree to Black Paris Tour! We explored the Luxembourg Garden along with the surrounding area to learn of the history of important African American figures such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Alexandre Dumas, and Josephine Baker. Pictured is one of Paris’ most famous jazz clubs, Le Petit Journal, as well as a sculpture commemorating the abolition of slavery within French colonies (the broken chain signifying being free of slavery). Learn more about the tour here!
- Art exhibits and galleries! The first 3 images are from an exhibit by Raphael Barontini, he combines song and dance, dresses, textiles and curtains to rewrite the history of the Carribean during periods of slave trade (Link to the exhibit)
- The last few come from a solo exhibition by a New York artist Xaviera Simmons. She works to create a message through photography, with each piece’s theme changing based on the image she holds, coming from the AFRO American Newspaper’s archive. (Link to the exhibit)
- “Dinner for One” Podcast host and now author Sutanya Dacres (on the right) came to our hotel to talk about rebuilding her life in Paris as an African American woman after a divorce with her French ex-husband. She really enlightened us with her story of acclimating to French culture, dating in Paris, and overall how her life has been much different compared to in America. (To listen to her podcast and order her book!)
This class has been eye opening and one of the best classes I’ve gotten the opportunity to take. I feel much more aware and in tune with my identity, and found myself learning so much about how different life is for African Americans in different parts of the western world. Paris was an experience I’ll never forget, and below I’ll put some photos from the trip! I would HIGHLY recommend taking this course, especially if you are interested in educating yourself on the history of France and Denmark in relation to African Americans and Black citizens who visited, lived, and worked in these places.